Rainy Day

Today on the site we have a special treat: An interview with Bill Griffith by Gary Panter; topics include: love, footwear, and scariness. Goodness ensues. If you stop and think about Griffith's influence on Panter's work, a bunch of things about the way the latter artist deals with dialogue and observation snap into place.

Elsewhere on the wild internet:

-Bryan Lee O'Malley has a thoughtful and empathetic post up in response to the perennial "how do I break into the biz" question. One interesting thing about for me is that how it's such a different narrative than that of cartoonists a generation older, i.e. the Web, manga, etc.

-Our own Frank Santoro is posting some very nice drawings of his home environment.

-You had me at "George Cruikshank had a nephew, Percy Cruikshank, son of Robert Cruikshank, who signed himself 'George Cruikshank Junior.'"

-Cartoonist and TCJ-contributor Jim Rugg has a nifty looking artshow opening in a week.

-I'm also an easy mark for all things Mort Walker. Here's a scan of an early profile of the cartoonist. Should you ever wonder what to get me for my birthday, always think "Mort".

-And finally, in the ongoing "How'd that Corto Maltese book get so fucked up?" saga, let me trace a few threads for you:

1) The fine people at Big Planet Comics explain, with visual aids, what they saw as wrong with the book as published by Rizzoli (and apparently in a few countries). I agree!

2) Then the designer of the book, Chris McDonnell, in a post that defended his own design and typography but not the actual book production, notes "I asked for the original format pages and better quality line art files but the files that we ultimately used were the only option for files provided by the licensor or the estate (I don’t know who) for this project." Well, that explains something. The files as-supplied weren't very good. Why? Well, Rizzoli released a statement :

Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea was originally printed in the Italian comics magazine Sgt. Kirk, in 1967, and later in the French magazine Pif gadget in the early 1970s. Hugo Pratt collected the strips, had them colored, and published them in an oversized volume in 1978. In 1985, the colors were revamped in collaboration with Patrizia Zanotti.  In 1994, Hugo Pratt reworked the size of the strip to three rows of panels per page.  This new, smaller, more manageable graphic novel format was done to appeal to new Corto fans in the Italian market.

Universe/Rizzoli took the changes that Pratt himself made in the 1994 edition and reprinted this reworked format. We made no changes to Hugo Pratt’s 1994 version.

There have been other English editions of Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea, but the Pratt estate wanted a fresh translation from Pratt’s original Italian text. Harvill Press published an edition of Ballad of the Salt Sea in the oversized format and in the original black and white. The translation for that edition was made from a French translation of the original Italian text. The NBM edition of Ballad of the Salt Sea also contained a translation twice removed from the original Italian.

We worked directly with Patrizia Zanotti and the Hugo Pratt estate on this project, they were fully involved, and we had their support and approval during every step of the process: from the much-improved direct translation from the original Italian; to using art that came from the Hugo Pratt estate via their European publisher; to reviewing multiple rounds of color proofs.

So what's the lesson here? Dunno. Estates don't always know best? Usually the original way something is drawn is best? Don't go to press with lo-res files even if someone says it's OK? The point is that it's a badly done book, which is a shame. Not much more to be done, as the estate clearly doesn't know or care about proper digital production. So, it is what it is, maaaan.

26 Responses to Rainy Day

  1. David says:

    Indeed, Big Planet Comics is wrong in their assumption that the pages were shrunk for the American market. If you walk into a well-stocked BD store, you’ll find at least 3 or 4 different French editions of the Corto Maltese books, different permutations of color, B&W, softcover, hardcover, and different sizes. I agree with Big Planet that the large size, B&W editions are the best-looking, but the shrunken, colored version has been around for a while, and has its own following. As for the reproduction quality, I haven’t seen the new edition in person yet.

    If Fantagraphics should one day decide to publish the large B&W version (if they can get the rights) we’ll still be behind the French in terms of different editions. Doesn’t Kim Thompson speak Italian?

  2. Kim Thompson says:

    I can read it well enough to translate. Speak, not so much! But it’s pretty unlikely that there will be a new edition for many, many years, the way these things work.

    It’s true that the small, color, not-great-line-quality version of CORTO has been around in the Italian and French editions for a while, apparently to no great controversy, and with its own following among people who like the more “comfortable” size and color. I feel a little bad for Rizzoli USA who must be feeling pretty sandbagged, having released a U.S. edition that pretty well matches an uncontroversial official European editions and are being torn a new one for mutilating a classic.

    Incidentally, much of the actual art in the color version is actually 10% or 15% BIGGER than the art in the classic 8 1/2 x 11 Casterman (and NBM) books due to the rearrangement of the panels. (Splash panels and some larger panels are admittedly smaller.) So while it’s fair to talk of a “reformatted” version, “shrunken,” with its implication that Pratt’s art is being printed smaller (which WAS the case with NBM’s comic-book version as I recall), is misleading.

  3. Kim Thompson says:

    Is it worth mentioning that fully half the canonical 62-page full-color four-tier TINTIN books are actually reassembled and colorized (and in some cases extensively redrawn by a studio) versions of ca. 120-page three-tier black-and-white TINTIN books? Under Hergé’s personal supervision, of course.

  4. Dan Nadel says:

    I think the point here is this: For whatever reason the book is printed from lo-res files and the art looks shitty. The rest of it is matters of taste — Pratt’s and the audience’s. If a book came my way and the choice was to print it from shitty files or not at all, I’d take the not at all. Rizzoli is a big company — it can take the sandbagging. And, as company that otherwise has impeccable production values, it shoulda known better.

  5. patrick ford says:

    Fiddling with the page layouts, as well as cropping and or extending panels is the biggest issue for me.
    The reason people in the US are so unhappy has to do with the market for Pratt in the US.
    As has been mentioned in Europe many comics are available in a variety of different formats targeting different audiences. I would assume Pratt approved the reformatted editions, not because he saw them as an improvement, but because that style of album was one favored by “casual” readers. In the US the market for Pratt is much smaller and is comprised mainly of people who appreciate the fact that the original pages were created by Pratt to work best as he drew them. Tom Spurgeon has a link up today which shows many examples of how the original pages work far-far better than the new format.
    It’s almost like comparing the old paperback MAD reprints to the original comic books. Are the paperbacks impossible to enjoy? Well no lots of people enjoyed them.

  6. Dan Nadel says:

    That precise link is already above in my blog post.

  7. david t says:

    it is worth mentioning indeed, if only to point out that these original 120-page books are far more enjoyable on every level than their stiff redrawn counterparts! hergé’s original cartooning is great & loses a lot of punch when tinkered with; the blue lotus in its original version is a masterpiece; the redrawn version is an okay remake at best.

    then again, the studio is quite good when it has more sophisticated stories to work with (case in point: castafiore’s emeralds, etc.).

    but i get what you’re saying: most readers don’t realize the amount of tinkering-with their favourite books have been subjected to. i just don’t see how that’s an excuse for anything.

    as for the coloured, & reduced pratt books in french: i have yet to meet a single serious comics reader who prefers them over the classic b&w editions.

  8. It is sort of odd that the estate and the publisher were SO concerned with the story/translation but paid no attention to the art. I guess they thought it was impossible to make Pratt’s art look shitty.

    They were wrong.

  9. Kim Thompson says:

    I don’t think the files are low-res. I think the colorist worked, for whatever reason, on photocopies or photostats which featured compromised line quality, and all subsequent scans and reproductions of this work carry this compromised line art with them. I’m pretty sure the only way to create a file with sharp line art would be to re-color the whole thing from scratch.

    The funny thing is that responses to this line quality run the gamut from The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Seen to Barely Noticeable, and not necessarily along the lines you’d expect. (James Romberger, who one would expect to be a print-quality absolutist, has little or no problem with it, for instance. And I honestly don’t think it’s terrible.) I’d recommend everyone pick up a copy (as in place it in your hand, not necessarily purchase it) and make up his or her own mind.

  10. Kim Thompson says:

    I absolutely agree the BW versions of Pratt are better, full stop. I also don’t think anything “excuses” anything else. I’m just not sure how much of an utter desecration the smaller color ones are. The French now have current editions of both versions, the little c0lor ones and the full-size BW ones (with crisp lines), to choose from, which I guess is the ideal situation. Too bad the U.S. market can’t support something like that.

    I don’t think the superiority of all the BW TINTINs is quite that cut and dried, although admittedly I have an emotional investment in the color ones since those are the ones I read as a kid. In KING OTTOKAR’S SCEPTRE, for instance, E.P. Jacobs brings a lot to the table on the color iteration. THE BLUE LOTUS packs much more of a punch in the BW, yes. I’ve always liked the weird contrast in the color CONGO and AMERICA between the mature Hergé studio style and the utter infantile dopiness of the material. BLACK ISLAND and BROKEN EAR seem to me lesser works that are fine in either version because it’s not that important. (The third BLACK ISLAND is horrible and soulless, though.) Your mileage may vary.

    Hergé hated and resisted the idea of coloring them originally, by the way.

  11. Andrei Buters says:

    I finished reading my copy of the reprint last night and enjoyed it immensely. I’m really disappointed to hear about these editorial changes.

    One point Big Planet didn’t mention is that in one point in the book, the digitally inserted translation text break out of the speech bubble and end up on Corto’s face. That’s pretty inexcusable.
    I only noticed two panels where the low quality images became an issue. One is on the Big Planet site, the other is a minor panel of Cain saying some selfish, adolescent line (Oh Cain! Y U shootin?)

    I liked the addition of colour. They are simple washes of watercolour that do not compromise the great lineart. They’re definitely not lurid.

    But look, these problems aside, three months ago as an Australian comic buyer I couldn’t get my hands on Corto Maltese for love nor (hideous Amazon prices) money. Now I can. We should press Universe to create a more faithful reproduction for the second printing, but if we get a choice between reprint with one or two low quality images, a lot of panel surgery and no reprint at all, I choose the reprint.

  12. James says:

    Me, an absolutist? I actually looked at it AGAIN at Hanley’s yesterday. Font: still yuck. Color: okay because it’s watercolor but black and white would be much better AND cheaper for the consumer. Line quality: definitely fuzzy. I’d almost think someone watercolored on copies of the NBM comics and scanned them.

  13. R. Fiore says:

    At his appearance at San Diego a couple of years ago Milo Manara said that he did his original art in horizontal strips of page width, as opposed to full pages. Did Pratt work this way as well? This would have an impact on the discussion about page format.

  14. BVS says:

    to me the biggest issues are the low res jpg looking line art and the panels hacked in half which breaks up the page beats. I can get over the robotic font.
    are they saying that this was all Hugo Pratt’s doing in 94′? did he and his staff just do a shitty job of scanning? was he suffering from george lucas syndrome and this is just the final version of something he re-edited several times and we are just stuck with it?

  15. Kim Thompson says:

    Not really. A lot of European cartoonists did their pages in half pages (you can see the 14A and 14B page numbers on a lot them), just because the original art was more manageable; this didn’t mean they weren’t thinking of the page as a whole, and anyway the Rizzoli “reduced” version rebuilds the individual tiers.

  16. Kim Thompson says:

    The reconfiguring of the panels for the smaller size was done in 1994 under Pratt’s supervision or at least with his approval, according to their statement, which I see no reason to disbelieve. It seems to have done for purely mercantile reasons, to reach a segment of the Italian audience that likes small, cheap books, but I suspect Pratt just figured this as an iteration that would not supersede the original version (which, indeed, is still available) and would reach more readers. The colored version of the small iteration was apparently created years later, after his death (1995), presumably/apparently using compromised line-quality art or a too-low resolution. So I’m guessing if a publisher wants to use the small color version those are the files he’s stuck with, short of re-watercoloring the entire thing from scratch.

  17. revroth says:

    Hey, Kim. Why do you think any alternative edition would be many many years away? And are you aware of any interest at Fantagraphics at any point in history in doing CORTO right?

  18. Daniel Jose Mata says:

    I think the reason there have been no complaints across the pond was because there are other versions available. Different stuff for different people. McDonnell’s comment on thinking that probably no publisher would print a large black and white edition is a naive little lie to tell oneself. As far as I can remember, this has been a golden age of reprints.

  19. Chris McD says:

    It is a golden age of reprints including many beautiful b/w projects. In any case, my speculation about what may go through a theoretical publisher’s mind is moot, since I have no first-hand knowledge about Universe’s decision making about why they licensed this specific small color reprint, and I wasn’t part of the project until I was hired to design with the files provided. This information should also make it clear that I do not have a dark mission to work on reformatted color reprints vs original format b/w reprints and require lying to myself to justify my deeds. Haha, let’s dial this back a bit!

  20. Chris McD says:

    Hi Andrei, can you tell me the page number with the problem text on Corto’s face? I’ve done a few scan throughs and haven’t found it yet but I want to be aware of any issues.

  21. Alan Lawrence says:

    As people have pointed out on other sites, just because Pratt approved of this edition doesn’t make peoples desire for the original version go away. That approval was weighed against a number of factors that applied to the continental European comic market of the mid-90s that don’t apply to the English-language comic market of 2012. The fact remains that within a pair of months we saw the release of beautiful editions faithfully reproducing Milo Marnara’s work, and a cheap-quality edition of Hugo Pratt’s signature work that pales in comparison to English-language editions published nearly 20 years ago. Rizzoli seems hardly to be concerned that fans and supporters of Corto Maltese had been waiting for something completely different from what Rizzoli released; rather than own up to problems in producing the desired book, they simply stand by the notion that this is some sort of approved version of Ballad of the Salt Sea. As someone pointed out on another forum, the original version of Ballad of the Salt Sea was approved, too.

    And while some people posting here and on other sites seem quite immune to the precision and sensitivity of Pratt’s layout, I have always found it to be one of the most affecting aspects of his work on Corto Maltese. Pratt’s layout articulates his pace, his mood, and ultimately it helps to articulate his deeper themes. The existential revery of the books, the verve and inspiration of adventure, the abrasive feeling of solitude; all of it beats in time with the flow of the panels and the turns of the pages. That pace leaves its mark, but with a haphazard layout, the kind given to this Rizzoli edition, that pace is twisted and crippled. I can’t imagine that many people will be hooked on Corto Maltese from this new edition; not nearly as many as were drawn to it in the original layout.

    As for the reproduction quality of this edition, I have a great many comic volumes reprinted in English from all corners of the globe, and none of them are reproduced as poorly as this edition. I could create an edition of comparable quality on my Epson home printer, and any offset printer ought to be ashamed to be printing something of this quality.

  22. Kim Thompson says:

    Well, for one thing Rizzoli has the contract for the material, which almost certainly includes control of any other CORTO work for the time being, so even if this edition fails and goes away, the exclusive contract will linger on for years until it expires.

    Here’s the thing: There is a limited audience for any series, and the existence of a previous iteration drains away some of that audience. Releasing ANY foreign translation is a challenge financially; if you start off with the liability of part of your audience having been leeched away by earlier versions, that’s just one more problem to deal with. And that works on the retailer level too (especially in the bookstore market): The existence of NBM’s version, whose sales were I assume not terrific, will hobble retailers’ interest in the new version. For that matter, the idea that if we all boycott the Rizzoli version so it fails and someone can come along that much sooner and do a “good” version is short-sighted: The failure of the Rizzoli version would make it HARDER for anyone else to to Pratt again later, and in fact by extension probably do to any European adventure comic since retailers’ initial orders are predicated on how earlier, similar material did.

    Of course I’ve long toyed with the idea of doing a proper CORTO reprint. Any publisher with an interest in European comics would: He’s Europe’s Caniff. But I heard through the grapevine from other publishers that Pratt’s licensors were notoriously intractable and stubborn and impossible to strike a deal with (not unlike you-know-who’s) and thought it wiser to devote my energies to pursuing projects without these two strikes — preexisting editions, crazy licensors — against them. So you get Tardi, Mattotti, Martí, Mezzo/Pirus, David B., Trondheim, the kids’ comics, etc. instead. Heck, I’ve taken a few stabs at Moebius over the years, to of course no avail whatsoever (but oh, you guys came SO close to getting that recent ARZAK book in English…).

    Do I feel a twinge of regret at seeing the compromised version of CORTO that was released? Sure. But, like Schindler, we can’t save everyone. And from what I know it’s not unlikely that the Pratt licensors insisted on their end on the use of the small color version with the ragged line art, and that even if we’d secured the license we’d have been on the losing end of that battle. (This is one reason I’m less sanguine than most of the mob here about blaming the American editors; they may not have had much choice in the matter, and are stuck in the PR hell of not being able to defend themselves.)

  23. Kim Thompson says:

    I hope those potential readers interested in Pratt’s work make an effort to seek it out in their local bookstore or comics shops and flip through it to make up their own minds, rather than take some of the fairly over-the-top rhetoric about the awfulness of the printing here at face value and assume it looks like it’s printed on “my Epson printer,” which it doesn’t. (In any event, it’s not the printing that’s problematic but the files.) It’s easy to get microscopically fixated on issues of repro quality and resolution that to most readers will be completely unnoticeable, especially once they get into the story. And, seriously, critics, you know, it is possible for some things to fall into the broad gray area between Totally, Totally Awesome And Perfect and The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Seen. The repro on CORTO MALTESE isn’t an A, it isn’t an F, it’s maybe a C. A C- if you want to be harsh. I wish it were better. It isn’t. It’s the CORTO we’ve got now.

    Well, it’s the CORTO you monolinguists have. I have my French edition (in fact, I have three different ones, all big and black-and-white and nice and crisp), but… well, you know what I mean.

  24. Thales says:

    Well, you don’t need to know french, you could also learn spanish, italian, portuguese, german…

  25. Anthony Thorne says:

    Does the comment from Thales imply that only the most recent English-language version is the shit one, and the other respective territories have the nicer version? Hrumph. Also – Kim, stop rubbing it in. That noted, I could maybe handle the quality of the files if the cropping and re-arranging weren’t present, but when the original uncropped pages that have been shown recently make me go “Wooo!”, and the later redone versions make me go “Uhhhhh”, I re-prioritise my comics budget to better books. (In this case, Fanta’s new NANCY IS HAPPY, which is heavily discounted – nearly half price – on Amazon as I type this). Then it’ll be some Manara’s, then a few LoAC titles, and so on. Sadly, CORTO MALTESE will now have to wait.

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